Filipino WWII veterans awarded Congressional Gold Medal

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Celestino Almeda joined the Philippine Commonwealth Army in 1941 (KFSN)

The promise of U.S. citizenship and veterans benefits helped lead a quarter of a million Filipinos to fight for the U.S. in World War Two.

About 10,000 became naturalized during the war but for most of them, it was an empty promise.

A change has come to the nation's capital. Washington DC has finally honored a group of forgotten heroes who were called on by President Roosevelt in 1941 to fight under the American flag after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

House Speaker Paul Ryan unveiled the Congressional Gold Medal for the Filipino veterans. It seeks to right a historical wrong.

Ryan was greeted with applause when he announced, "We award this medal to the Filipino veterans of World War II."

Over 250,000 Filipinos and Filipino nationals were promised U.S. citizenship and veterans benefit only to see that promise broken in 1946 when a Rescission Act was signed by President Truman.

Bel Tengco recalled her late father, "He was captured. He was tortured. He was made to dig his grave but he was rescued."

Tengco came from Merced for the emotional ceremony. She explained, "I felt my father there."

It was a bittersweet gathering. Only about 18,000 of the veterans are still alive, like 100-year old Celestino Almeda.

93-year old Gualberto Pumento of Oakland said, "I'm very happy that this happened because I remember my fallen friends. My comrades who died."

San Francisco State History professor Dawn Mabalon attended on behalf of her late father. She said, "As a USAFFE veteran my father never got that recognition and so I don't think he felt really on the same level as the 1st Filipino Infantry in some way that those guys got the G.I. Bill."

Veterans and their next of kin received bronze replicas of the award at an event in Tysons Corner, Virginia.
Major General Tony Taguba spearheaded the final push for the honor. The Congressional Gold Medal now goes on display at the Smithsonian Institution.

Related Topics:
politicsmilitaryawardWorld War IIarmyWashington
(Copyright ©2017 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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